A group of activists are currently fighting to see to it that a Wisconsin man, Lt. Col. James “Maggie” Megellas, is awarded the Medal of Honor he was recommended for nearly 70 years ago and has still not received.
Megellas, Fond du Lac, spoke at the Walter Pakulski All Airborne Memorial Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Airborne Forces Memorial Bridge in Stevens Point. At the memorial he unveiled a painting depicting himself in the Battle of the Bulge that the Military Gallery recently commissioned.
Megellas joined the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th Parachute Infantry during World War II.
At the age of 97, Megellas currently lives in Texas and still spends time touring the country with his wife to speak about his time serving in WWII. To this day, Megellas is the most decorated officer of the 82nd Airborne.
Megellas was recommended for the Medal of Honor Jan. 28, 1945, in Belgium for an act of bravery above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of the Bulge. Megellas and his platoon had waded through deep snow ahead of the tank destroyer when they were attacked by a battalion of German soldiers and a Panther tank.
“Leaders lead from the front,” Megellas said, referring to his unusual tactic of placing himself as platoon leader in front of his men. “If you lead from the front, you gain the respect of your men, they’ll follow you anywhere.
“I charged the tank,” Megellas said. “It was firing on us. While everyone else took cover, I went alone and took two grenades out of my pocket, one concussion grenade and one hand grenade, and proceeded to knock out the tank and kill the crew. When that was done we took over the town and the war continued.”
He disabled the tank with the first grenade, climbed on top of the tank and dropped the second grenade inside, effectively destroying it and its operators.
Megellas and his men went on to fight a battle in which they were outnumbered 10 to one. Megellas said they had the Germans “surrounded from the inside.”
The platoon airborne troopers killed more than 100 enemy soldiers that day, and captured another 180, without sustaining a single casualty from their own platoon.
“In the heat of the battle when all you’re carrying is a gun and you don’t even have a pen to write with, you’re trying to survive. We were fighting for survival and to prevail and win the war, that was the main concern,” said Megellas. “Whether or not we got medals, that was never the issue.”
Megellas was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his company commander, the late Col. Edward Sims. It was not until 1999 that Sims learned Megellas never received the medal. The Army did not include the information about Megellas destroying the tank in its consideration of awarding him the medal and downgraded it to a Silver Star.
Sims immediately appealed to the U.S. Army, requesting that the Silver Start be upgraded, but his appeal, and four subsequent appeals, were denied. Shortly after the first denial, Sims started the Sims Team, an activist group to convince Wisconsin legislators to introduce a bill in congress that would award Megellas the Medal of Honor.
Sims died in June 2013, but the Sims Team is still fighting. Wisconsin resident and veteran of the 82nd Airborne’s 504th Thomas Laney is keeping up correspondence with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
“A brave Wisconsinite and dedicated soldier, LTC James Megellas deserves to be awarded the Medal of Honor,” Baldwin said. “I’m proud to co-sponsor legislation recognizing his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. I will continue my work to move the legislation forward because Mr. Megellas’ acts of valor merit our nation’s highest honor.”
Baldwin co-sponsored the bill to authorize and request the president of the United States to award the Medal of Honor to Megellas. The bill sent to the Armed Services Committee in June 2013 and has seen no action since that time.
“My position is if Congress or the White House doesn’t get involved, the Army won’t change its mind,” said Laney. “You can look at the recent ones by Obama and it’s easy to see a man who leads a platoon against two battalions deserves the medal. It was an important battle. There was so much going on at the time that it never got the attention it deserved.”
Laney said though he continues to send letters and call the senator’s office, he no longer receives responses to his correspondence.
The Sims Team created a website and posted a petition for supporters of the medal to sign. For more information about Megellas or Sims visit www.medalformaggie.com.
Megellas wrote about his experience in the war in the book “All the Way to Berlin.” The book was published by Radom House and has been translated into several different languages.